The arrival of the 2019-20 school year brings with it the return of the fall athletic season for children throughout Black Mountain and Swannanoa.
The Stampede in the Valley, which kicks off in Warhorse Stadium at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 20, will celebrate the start of the season.
The third installment of the annual event will feature athletes from Owen High School, Owen Middle School and the Owen Warhorse Youth Football and Cheerleading organization. The Owen Marching Band, dance team and cheerleaders will also be featured.
The 2019 Stampede will feature a new format, according to Owen football head coach Nathan Padgett, who started the event prior to the 2017 season.
"When I came to Owen I wanted to implement something that would serve as 'meet-the-Warhorses' night, with a football focus," he said. "It was originally a joint practice with our guys and the youth teams, but now it's branching out and we're getting more of the community involved."
The new configuration will include an introduction of the junior varsity and varsity Warhorses to open a festival-like gathering that will feature athletes from all of the school's fall athletic programs.
"Our effort this year has been to get more groups involved from the high school," said Linda Tatsapaugh, the head of the committee that organized the event. "We're looking to have active participation from all of the athletic teams that don't have an event that day and a number of the clubs."
The centerpiece of the Stampede will be on-field clinics and mini-games, facilitated by the high school athletes, according to Tatsapaugh.
"We'll have various stations set up on the field and around it," she said. "We'll have the football hosting an area where they can work with the kids on football skills and have them test those skills. We'll have the other teams doing similar activities."
The fall sports season at Owen features boys soccer, cross country, girls tennis, volleyball and football.
"There will be a cornhole tournament put on by the Student Government Association," Tatsapaugh said. "We haven't confirmed it yet, but we are hoping to have a pie-throwing contest where the children can throw pies at their favorite teachers and coaches."
Kona Ice and stadium concessions will be available as well and a raffle by the Parent-Teacher-Student Organization will include a football signed by the Warhorse roster.
Ten percent of the proceeds will go to Hand in Hand, a Swannanoa Valley nonprofit that assists area students with school supplies and other necessities.
"This year the focus will be on community involvement," Padgett said. "Our players will organize and run some stations so anybody who wants to come through and experience what it's like to be a Warhorse can come try them out."
His players are eager to interact with the younger kids, many of whom come out to watch them play on Friday nights.
"They enjoy participating in any event with the younger kids," Padgett said. "It gives them a chance to talk about football and serve in mentor-like capacity. And I enjoy seeing our players assume that leadership role, it's very rewarding for me as a coach."
The setting also serves as an introduction to the sports for many kids, he continued.
"They come out there, throw or kick a football or experience another sport, and they think, 'Hey, I'd like to do this,'" Padgett said. "It's a way to help pass the tradition of Owen football and athletics down to the younger kids."
Players from the Owen Warhorse Youth Football and Cheer organization will be among those attending the event. They will have the opportunity to share the field with their high school counterparts.
"A lot of those kids really look up to our players," Padgett said. "I know when I was a kid growing up here I used to cheer on all of the guys on the team. It's part of growing up in the Valley."
The high school football season will kick off Friday, Aug. 23 with a road game against East Henderson. The Warhorses will open the season at home on Sept. 6, against Reynolds.
The Owen cross country team begins its season on Sunday, Aug. 25, in the WNC Cross Country Carnival in Hendersonville. The Warhorse soccer team opens the 2019 campaign at home against Smoky Mountain at 7 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 19.
The Warlassies tennis team will head to Pisgah to start its season on Aug. 20, while the volleyball team will go on the road to face Enka on Monday, Aug. 19.
"It's a great time of year," Padgett said. "It will be fun to get it all started with the Stampede in the Valley."